0729-Feature-Madison Legacy_Blog

Madison McCarthy died from sudden cardiac arrest at age 5. She would have turned 19 on July 21.

Every year on Madison’s birthday, her parents and two brothers, 17-year-old Michael and 11-year-old Ryan, do something to remember her: a picnic at her grave or watching the sun set along Lake Erie near their home in Evans, New York. And they always light a candle.

But this birthday had unique significance for Suzy McCarthy, Madison’s mother. New York is working to join the list of 24 states that require CPR training to graduate high school, something McCarthy has persistently worked for since her daughter’s death in 2001.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo took action last October, signing a law that compelled the New York State Board of Regents to consider a CPR training requirement for school curriculum that would take effect Oct. 7. The Board of Regents is accepting public comments until August 15.

The New York requirement would ultimately add nearly 190,000 students to the already 1.3 million being trained each year.

“Knowing that the regulations are now being considered gives me a feeling of relief, and a feeling of pride,” said McCarthy, whose son Michael also advocated for passage of the law. “For New York’s students, there won’t be any hesitation. They will know what to do if someone needs CPR.”

Madison collapsed in her kindergarten classroom. But no one did CPR.

“I couldn’t have hand-picked a better group of people to be with her, to be holding her hand when she died,” McCarthy said. “But I was angry that an emergency response plan wasn’t in place, and that nobody started CPR.”

McCarthy wanted to improve how schools address emergencies. She met Karen Acompora, a Long Island mother whose son Louis had also died from cardiac arrest. Acompora and her husband John helped to pass a 2002 law that required automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, in public schools.

Suzy McCarthy_2

Suzy McCarthy and Bob Elling at Lobby Day in Albany, New York.

McCarthy joined the Acomporas in their advocacy efforts. AED work turned into CPR work with the American Heart Association and the Madison McCarthy Cardiac Care for Children, which McCarthy founded in 2002. The nonprofit helps buy AEDs for schools and train people in CPR.

Working with other parent advocates and meeting children who survived cardiac arrest helped ease McCarthy’s grief.

“I met the first child survivor on the anniversary of Madison’s death,” she said. “Those of us who have lost children have noticed that important things happen on important days.”

“We are doing our part to help make sure all high school kids in New York as well as across the nation learn the skill of Hands-Only CPR,” said Bob Elling, a paramedic and chair of the AHA’s New York state advocacy committee. “Suzy has worked hard to prevent senseless deaths like her daughter’s. When New York has CPR training in schools, we will be at a tipping point, and hopefully the rest of the country will move to assure CPR in Schools for all students as a graduation requirement.”

While others are appreciative of McCarthy’s work, she is grateful for Madison’s role.

“I thank her for everything she’s done, peering down at us,” McCarthy said. “I thank her for the children who have survived since her death.”

Photos courtesy of Suzy McCarthy and American Heart Association